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  • Writer's pictureStreets & Avenues

4 Things to Consider When Renovating an Old House

How Reed and Delphine Krakoff turned Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s childhood summer home into a contemporary retreat with period-appropriate details

By Jennifer Fernandez

Photography by Ivan Terestchenko

When designers Reed and Delphine Krakoff purchased a circa-1917 Arts and Crafts residence on a historic 11-acre estate in East Hampton, New York—it was the childhood summer home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—the Manhattan-based couple chose to preserve its many period details instead of giving it a strictly contemporary overhaul. “I think we enjoy the process of bringing a house back to what it was more than the end product itself,” Delphine says. “We were very disciplined about getting rid of whatever wasn’t house-appropriate and bringing in things that were.” It’s a delicate balance that requires a sense of discovery, a discerning eye, and an inexhaustible spirit in the face of unexpected developments. Here are four things you should consider when renovating an old home.

Lay the groundwork. Before even thinking about doing anything aesthetically, have an inspector check the existing systems and structures. It’s easier to repair electrical work and plumbing—as the Krakoff's did when they updated their home’s antiquated pipes—as well as roofing and windows before you’ve added wallpaper and paint.

Dig deeper. The living room was clad in an ornate Louis XVI–style boiserie, but the pair discovered a drawing of the room from the early 20th century and learned about the grid-pattern millwork that had originally been there. So they cut a hole into the paneling and found the preserved oak beneath it. The design element now figures prominently in the space.

Embrace patina. “One of the best moments was when Martha Stewart walked through the finished house and asked if we’d done anything,” Reed says. “That was the highest compliment.” A significant contributor to that effect: the Krakoff’s decision to use plaster with metal lath for walls in lieu of Sheetrock.

Decorate with new old things. The couple replaced damaged floorboards with reclaimed 200-year-old oak to retain “that old creaky feeling,” Delphine says. In the dining room, a midcentury Samuel Marx table sits beneath a pair of 1910 Tiffany pendant lamps. “What’s interesting to us is the mix,” she says. “We wanted the house to seem as if it had been furnished over time.”



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